GAO Eyes Medicare Video Releases


The General Accounting Office is investigating video news releases (VNRs) the Bush administration sent to TV stations to plug/inform the public about its new Medicare bill, according to a story in The New York Times.

In the releases, distributed by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), actors pose as journalists in the "stories," which outline the benefirt of the new prescription benefit plan.

An HHS spokesman told the paper that there was nothing wrong with the releases and that the government was required to publicize the changes to the law.  But according to the paper, HHS does not identify itself as the source of the releases and federal agencies in the past have been found to violate restrictions on government funded publicity "when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government or its contractors without identifying the source."

The administration has already caught some grief for fliers and TV ads for the new Medicare law.

Critics suggested the fliers and ads were essentially government-funded campaign spots for the administration and propaganda for its Medicare plan, although a GAO report released last week found that the ads did not violate publicity or propaganda prohibitions. Still, according to a copy of the report, GAO has interpreted those prohibitions to relate to "misleading as to origins," the point at issue with the video news releases.
Among the legislators pushing for the investigation into the VNRs is New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who also pushed for the investigation into the TV ads and fliers.